31 Days of Halloween- Day 12- Cape Fear (1962)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 12- Cape Fear (1962)

Sam Bowden is a lawyer who finds that a criminal, Max Cady who he prosecuted against resulting in him going to jail (he had attacked a young woman) has been released from prison. Cady starts a harassment campaign against Bowden and his family and is seemingly hellbent on making Sam suffer for his incarceration.

I knew of this film from when the Scorsese remake came out. I was in the midst of my love of all things Scorsese and thought his version of Cape Fear was very good. But that was until I saw the original.

For all of the visual frills, the over the top performance of De Niro as Cady and scenes that weren’t in the original (the thumb sucking scene instantly springs to mind as does the attack that resulted in the cheek biting gratuity) the remake isn’t as good as the original film. Sometimes, less is more as is the case with this film.

The 60’s version of Cape Fear is more understated, character led and directed (by the underrated J Lee Thompson) with more restraint and is a much better film because of it.

The original feels less forced, more organic and features some much better performances from truly great actors such as Gregory Peck as Bowden and the great Robert Mitchum as Cady. Whenever Mitchum plays crazy he always excels and his portrayal of Cady is up there with his star turn in another fantastic shocker of a film, Night of the Hunter.

This isn’t to take away from the 90’s remake which is still a great film in it’s own right. But one great thing about it is that it might make more people aware that it is indeed a remake and so hopefully they may seek out the original. And they have a treat in store when they do.

Grade- A-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 4- Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 4- Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)

Following a very messy suicide involving a shotgun (theres a cameo by Ruby Wax who stars as a secretary), the American Ambassador to Britain position is now made vacant. It’s then filled by one Damian Thorn, businessman, politician and Son of the Devil. This was the job once held by his father, y’know, the one played by Gregory Peck in the first film.

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The daggers that can kill Thorn are then found after The Thorn Museum’s remains are excavated after the building was destroyed by fire at the end of the previous film. Scientists then find that the Son of God is due to be born. We see this happen as Damian tosses and turns in bed, waking up in a cold sweat.

Thorn learns of this second coming and aims to kill all children born within the appropriate time frame. Meanwhile, a group of hardcore Christians seize hold of the daggers and aim to kill Thorn once and for all whilst also finding the new Son of God.

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John Waters said in his book Crackpot that some of his favourite movies were the final instalments in movie franchises before their demise. He names several with this film being one of them as he calls it ‘the most ludicrous of all The Omens’. Is he right?

Yes he is. Omen III: The Final Conflict is ludicrous but it’s also a very satisfying rollercoaster ride of a film. It combines the classiness of the original with the slasher movie nastiness of the first sequel and comes up with something that is very gory but also with a subtle undercurrent of black humour.

I loved the attempts to kill Thorn that were so inept that I felt like I was watching an 80’s horror version of The Ladykillers.

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Sam Neill is perfectly cast as the adult Thorn. In fact, there are no missteps with the casting whatsoever.

The idea of the murder of loads of children reminded me of the bleak ending of another third film in a popular horror franchise, that of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. But whilst H3 still holds up for all of the right reasons (great acting, direction, cinematography and soundtrack to name but a few pluses), Omen III demands that the audience holds down the ‘suspend disbelief’ button in their minds.

The Omen III may be ludicrous but Waters still named it was an example of a film that is still noteworthy and still great fun. And he’s not wrong.

Grade- B-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 2- Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 2- Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

Jessica, her husband Duncan and their friend Woody arrive at a new house in the country that Jessica and Duncan have bought. When they arrive they are surprised to find someone squatting there. They ask this person, Emily to join them for their evening meal and then to sleep there for the night.

The next day Jessica asks Emily to stay at the house until she finds somewhere else to live. From here on in strange things start to happen to Jessica. She has already just been discharged from a psychiatric hospital into Duncan’s care and so she doesn’t share what is happening as she thinks Duncan and Woody will think these events aren’t real and are merely down to her psychological state.

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In fact, the notion of gaslighting and the doubting of one’s reality feature prominently within the film.

Jessica starts to see a blonde girl who appears at chosen times but then runs away again. When she is out swimming, someone or something grabs her under the water.

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Jessica and her husband find items in the attic that belonged to the previous owners of the house and decide to sell them to the antiques dealer in the local town. He tells them the history of the family who used to live in there- they were called the Bishops and their daughter Abigail drowned just before her wedding. But he tells them that locals say that in fact she isn’t dead and is in fact a vampire who is always on the hunt for fresh victims.

To give away anymore plot points would be to ruin the film and so they will end there! Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a fantastic gem of a film. Made in 1971 by director John Hancock, it has an air and feel all of it’s own. I love the fact that we are privy to Jessica’s thoughts which add another layer to the film and a palpable paranoia to proceedings.

There’s also the subtext of the city folk vs the locals that feels fresh here rather than cliched. And the locals of the local town are very unwelcoming indeed. In fact, they’re downright scary. And why are they all bandaged in some way?

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There are elements of Carnival of Souls within the film and Hancock’s film feels like it had some kind of influence on Spielberg’s Something Evil (which, by the way, STILL hasn’t been issued on Blu Ray. Scream Factory are the perfect candidates for this. Just a thought).

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a forgotten gem that isn’t forgotten anymore. In fact, it’s reputation has deservedly snowballed since it’s original release.

Hancock went on to direct the early De Niro masterpiece Bang The Drum Slowly which is also highly recommended.

Grade- B+

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Friday the 13th (1980)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Friday the 13th (1980)

One of my earliest memories involves the film Friday the 13th (those who know me are rolling their eyes and thinking ‘This doesn’t surprise me!’) I’m 5 years old and I’m running towards my local cinema, The Odeon in York. I regularly go there when my family venture into town as there are posters and lobby cards outside the cinema to pore over in minute detail. This is especially rewarding when said artwork is for a horror film.

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On this occasion Friday the 13th is showing and I’m ogling the poster and lobby cards like they are part of some ancient source of wisdom. What does it all mean? Who could be killing all the teens which the poster states were dying horribly one by one? What does the kindly older lady in one of the lobby cards have to do with this? Maybe she tries to save the teens throughout the course of the film…

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The quad poster for Friday the 13th. Notice the tagline that was so alluring to a 5 year old. Hell, it’s still alluring.
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The lobby cards for the film.
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The lobby card of the ‘kindly older lady’. Maybe she helps save the teens throughout the film…(don’t laugh, I was only 5)

It would be a few years before I finally got to see the film on video and my timing couldn’t have been better. I actually saw the first film after Part 3 which had just been released (more of that in a future article). A new, longer and gorier version of Part 1 was newly released on VHS (Warners actually initially got into trouble after it was discovered that an uncut version was originally released on video in the UK. This version has been successfully passed with an X rating for it’s UK cinema release. After the film was seized by police during the Video Nasties furore, Warners decided to play it safe and release the version that was cut to ensure an R rating in the US instead). This new video version was completely uncut and so I could see the film as it was intended to be seen.

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The original UK video release (ahhh- Warner big box videos. Beautiful!)

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The uncut 1987 UK VHS release

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I wasn’t disappointed. But after experiencing the series at Part 3 when a formula had been struck upon, I was surprised at how different the first film was compared to the rest of the series.

The film starts at the site where (most) of the rest of the series takes place, Camp Crystal Lake but here is a sequence that takes place in 1958. A couple of oh so wholesome teenaged camp counsellors have taken a break from singing ‘Michael, Row The Boat Ashore’ to find a more private place to make out. They are then found by an unseen assailant who kills them both.

We then get the credit sequence for the film which consists of the logo for the film crashing through an invisible pane of glass. This is reminiscent of the one page ad that Sean S Cunningham took out in the film trade press magazine Variety to reserve the name of ‘Friday the 13th’ as the name for a horror movie after Halloween had been such a success. Cunningham was thinking of other occasions that would also be great for the basis of a horror movie and so that no one else would base a film around that day traditionally associated with bad luck. Conversely, if anyone else had already used the same name for their project in the past, they would see the ad and approach Cunningham to ask him to change the title of his projected movie and avoid a potential lawsuit.

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The ad was also a great way to see if any potential backers could be encouraged to stump up the cash for the project that didn’t even have a cast, crew or even screenplay attached to it. The project literally just had the film’s name.

The film then flashes forward to Friday 13th June, The Present Day as an onscreen caption informs us. Teen Annie is making the journey to the same camp to be their cook. Annie is very irritating from the outset as she sees a nearby dog, asks it if it knows where Camp Crystal Lake is (the dog whimpers and walks off. And for good reason) and so she ventures into a nearby diner to ask the same question. She hitches a ride with a trucker who during their journey tries to dissuade her from taking on the role. He talks about the camp being jinxed with two kids being killed there in ’58 (the prelude to the film), the young kid who drowned in ’57 (more about him later), fires being started later on and even bad water preventing the camp from being reopened in ’62. Annie takes not one bit of notice of the old coot and ventures onto her new job.

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Annie asks a dog for directions…
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Dog turns it’s head away, whimpers and leaves

After she is dropped off by her new trucker friend, she is then picked up to complete her journey by someone in a 4×4. Who could this mystery person be? Annie notices that the driver has missed the turn-off for the summer camp and appears to be travelling insanely fast. Annie decides to jump from the moving vehicle and make a run for it from this nutjob, even though she twisted her ankle.

Annie decides to escape through the forest that surrounds her but is persued and eventually caught by the person who was driving the 4×4, identity still undisclosed who slashes her throat.

Two things are remarkable about this scene. Firstly, it was a young Tom Savini who is doing the special effects for the movie and they are nothing short of amazing. Annie’s death is a prime example. Secondly, the killer’s identity hasn’t been revealed and so it gives the film the flavour of a Giallo film with the film being as much a whodunnit as it is a horror movie.

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The identity of the killer is kept hidden until the film’s climax. This reminds me of the ‘whodunnit’ element of Giallo films
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Another example of Tom Savini’s genius

Annie’s murder happens in front of our eyes as do the demise of several other characters but the film also shows that it can be very restrained and wasn’t just interested in blood and gore. The characters of Ned and Brenda are both murdered off-camera with their corpses being revealed later to the audience throughout the course of the film. Ned goes to investigate a noise that he’s heard and his mutilated corpse is later shown to be on the top bunk of a bed whilst Jack and Marcie make love in the bunk below.

Brenda goes to respond to a cry for help in the pouring rain at the archery range later in the movie but we don’t get to see her death but just hear her scream. Her body is then thrown through the window when Alice has barricaded herself in a cabin after discovering Bill’s dead body pinned to the generator door.

Likewise, Bill’s dead body resplendent with arrows is discovered by Alice but the actual murder is never shown. The script for the film references his dead body as being ‘in a travesty of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian’ (the painting of San Sebastian below is by Andrea Mantegna)

The characters who make up the counsellors are actually quite endearing rather than the irritating specimens from other slasher movies who you can’t wait to bite the bullet. And yes, one of the actors (Kevin Bacon) went onto much bigger things. Bill is also played by Harry Crosby whose Dad was Bing Crosby.

The person who is reopening the summer camp is Steve Christy, the son of the original owner from decades before. I love the fact that he looks like he belongs on the cast of a 70’s gay porn movie. A coloured hankie (worn around his neck rather than in either his left or right back pocket), bare chest, denim shorts (almost Daisy Dukes) and lumberjack boots are all dead giveaways. Maybe he mistook Camp Crystal Lake for Fire Island.

Fun fact- the movie was filmed at Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in Blairstown, New Jersey. The guy who owned the site was called Fred Smith and he kept talking about his neighbour called Lou. And then his neighbour came to the set for the first time. And it was Lou Reed! People on set said that he visited the set a number of times and was super nice with everyone. One day, he even pulled out a guitar and performed a few songs for the cast and crew. Can you imagine being on the set of Friday the 13th and watching Lou Reed perform?! That’s a truckload of awesome right there.

Cast members also say that because the crew were all from New York City they would constantly play the likes of The Ramones and Patti Smith on set which is also awesome.

The final girl Alice shows from the outset that she is resourceful whether it’s getting cabins ready or nailing up guttering. She is also shown to be artistic judging by her drawings.

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But more importantly, she is later shown to be resourceful and logical when under pressure such as after she has discovered Bill’s body pinned to the back of the generator room door. She dashes back to the main cabin and starts to try and secure the front door with a rope lassoed over a wooden beam and barricading it with a chest of drawers, a chair and logs. She then arms herself with a baseball bat and cooking fork.

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Resourceful ‘Final Girl’ Alice secures the cabin door with a rope, barricades said door, grabs a baseball bat and lantern but still isn’t done yet.
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That’s better! A roasting fork to go with the baseball bat. The mark of a true Final Girl.

But she also diverges from the so-called slasher movie conventions for Final Girls as stipulated in Carol J Clover’s seminal mediation on gender in the slasher film genre, Men Women and Chainsaws. She is seen to be in an on-off relationship with Steve Christy rather than being a chaste virgin. She is also shown to participate in a game of Strip Monopoly and can even be seen having a sneaky toke on a spliff.

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‘But Steve. You look like a 1970’s homosexual…’
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Playing Strip Monopoly and smoking grass in a slasher movie. They’re fucked.

But, Alice also has the Final Girl quality of foreshadowing or being almost psychic that something bad is going to happen. When things start to go wrong later on in the film and Bill and Alice are looking for their co-counsellors, Alice senses that things aren’t right. She even suggests that they could hike out of the camp to get away to safety.

Another facet of Friday the 13th that sets it apart from the other movies in the franchise are the moments of comedy that occur. The character of the cop on his motorbike comes out of nowhere and feels like a prototype Tackleberry from Police Academy.

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The authority figure who is more like comic relief. The sheriff in the film.

Crazy Ralph acts as both a comedy figure (watch the hilariously awkward cycling scenes) and as a freaky, quasi religious doom bringer (‘I’m a Messenger of God!’ ‘It’s got a death curse!’ ‘You’re all doomed!’) who can be seen as another and lesser source of fear for the film’s characters. Check out the scene in which Ralph steps out of the pantry and startles Alice.

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Crazy Ralph hiding in the pantry
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Alice’s reaction to her unexpected visitor
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‘I’m a messenger of God!’ Ralph acts as clairvoyant for the viewer but more as a source of terror and/or bemusement for the characters.

But he also acts as a genuine predictor of bad things to come at the camp as we will see throughout the film’s running time. Notice when Ralph is actually on camp grounds. He can’t wait to get away fast enough whether on foot or on his push bike.

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Alice’s fright caused by Ralph coming out of the pantry turns to bemusement. The audience heed his warnings but the film’s characters don’t. And now they’re all dead. Just sayin’.

Within the slasher movie conventions there normally is one member of the ensemble who display almost psychic qualities and who very quickly foresee the terror that awaits everyone and in some instances they can become quite hysterical because of it. A good example of this in a horror/quasi-slasher movie in which a group of people get picked off one by one is Lambert in Alien.

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Lambert in Alien. Her second sight means she picks up on the dangerous situation herself and the rest of the Nostomo’s crew are truly in and we see her emotionally disintegrate very quickly because of this.

There’s also the speech from Marcie regarding her not liking storms after one has started at the camp. It’s because of a dream she’s had on numerous occasions in which she’s watching a storm with the rain coming down heavier and heavier which then suddenly turns to blood. This was actually the piece of dialogue from the screenplay that the actresses auditioning for a part in the film would have to recite.

But the jewel in the crown of Friday the 13th is the killer and the person who portrayed her. Firstly, the killer is shown to be Pamela Voorhees- a woman. This was completely unheard of then in horror movies and a massively unexpected twist for the film. The idea of a psychotic woman was still a taboo in real life and the movies and this is something that the movie uses beautifully. Mrs Voorhees is introduced near the very end of the film. Events that happen after this are worthy of in depth analysis to highlight what an extraordinary character she is and what a truly awe-inspiring performance this is.

But first, we have a slight detour. Notice how Alice’s raincoat gets caught on the handle for the oven? She just allows it to come off naturally rather than unhooking the part that has became caught. Was this because the later fight scene that was to come involved biting? Even Mrs Voorhees couldn’t have made much of an impact on trying to bite through the thick yellow plastic of a raincoat (although with her gnashers she might have been able to…more on that later).

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The strange ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ sequence in which Alice has her raincoat stolen by an oven. She is now extremely vulnerable from Mrs Voorhees’ teeth (an entity in themself)

Also, notice how after we’ve seen Alice barricade the front door we then see her remove all of the furniture she had placed in front of it because she sees some headlights approaching. It’s a wonderfully surreal moment.

The killer being female works well within the film. See how after Alice has started to uncover the dead bodies of her fellow camp counsellors, on running outside she sees Mrs Voorhees and after asking who she is (‘Why I’m Mrs Voorhees, an old friend of the Christies’) she is happy enough with the explanation to run into Pamela’s arms for reassurance and to tell her about the horrors she has just discovered. If this person had been male, Alice would have been a lot less trusting and more suspicious. He could have been the person responsible for these atrocities. But with this stranger being female and traditionally seen as nurturing, caring and empathetic, Alice feels satisfied to try to get her help and get to safety.

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Betsy Palmer played the role and had been typecast throughout her career as ‘the girl next door’. For an actress with a reputation for being wholesome and unthreatening to take up this role was a massive shock. Palmer had up until this moment been eager to break this typecasting but had actually taken on the project after her car had broken down. She had seen an ad for a cool little car called a Scirocco which her role in this film would pay for. She read the script, thought it was in her own words ‘a piece of ****’ and thought that the movie would disappear without a trace but she’d still get her car!

But Ms Palmer was too much of a consummate professional to just turn in some anaemic performance by numbers and gives us such a turn that her performance is still one of the most chilling and insane depictions I’ve ever seen in a horror movie.

A red flag that appears for Alice at the start of this encounter is that Mrs Voorhees doesn’t appear to be afraid whatsoever and goes into the cabin to investigate even though Alice has told her about the camp counsellors who have been killed and whose bloodied and mutilated bodies she has been unfortunate to have seen. She even tries to gaslight Alice by saying that it’s the storm that has made her afraid rather than anything else. When Pamela insists on investigating further, Alice pleads with her not to as she could be killed too. ‘I’m not afraid!’ Pamela asserts and ventures into the cabin. The fact that Mrs Voorhees isn’t scared about this strongly suggests that she’s either, very brave, very dumb or that she’s the killer.

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‘I’m not afraid! Psychotic maybe, but not afraid!’
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Mrs Voorhees ventures inside to ‘investigate’. Her distinct lack of fear is a red flag for Alice

On entering the cabin, Pamela sees Brenda’s body and laments about how young she was and ponders what kind of monster could have done such a thing (a huge red flag as she is the killer. She appears to be unable to reconcile herself with the fact that she is the killer or she suffers from multiple personalities). She also opines how Steve should never have opened the place again as theres been too much trouble.

Her speech then becomes more agitated when she starts to talk about a young boy who had drowned years before and how the young counsellors who should have been watching him had been too busy making love. Notice Alice’s body language here. She knows all is not right with her current situation and her new acquaintance.

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Notice Alice’s body language on hearing Mrs Voorhees speech about the camp and the counsellors not doing their job
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She realises that she is in real danger as Pamela is seriously unhinged and may actually be the killer

Pamela explains that the person who drowned was actually her son and that not only was she the cook at the camp then but was actually working the day he drowned. Her ability to unpredictably become violent is shown as she says that Jason ‘should have been watched every minute’ and grabs Alice by the arms and gives her an abrupt shake to emphasise the point. She is just about to disclose that her son was disabled but quickly stops herself and mentions that he ‘wasn’t a very good swimmer’ instead (this also stops her reminiscences that are becoming violent and brings her back to earth again).

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Mrs Voorhees gets violent during her speech about the camp after she discloses that the child who drowned was her son Jason
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‘He was…he wasn’t a very good swimmer!’

She then suggests that Alice and her ‘can go now’ as she strokes Alice’s hair. But Alice’s hunch that all is not right means she resists this as she says that instead they should wait for Steve Christy to come back. Voorhees says ‘That’s not necessary’ which is another red flag (as she’s killed Christy) before she starts to have flashbacks to her son drowning. She even starts to respond to her son’s pleas for help within the flashback. Oh boy.

This part of the scene is also very interesting as within the original script it was very different. There was a whole plotline in which we’d have a clue as to the killer’s identity. The murder of Barry and Claudine (the frisky counsellors who are the first to be killed during the film) originally would see Mrs Voorhees (who would still remain faceless within the sequence so that the film still had the ‘whodunnit’ aspect to it) lose her small finger. During the scene in which Mrs Voorhees’ character is introduced and Alice is realising that she’s a nutjob, when she says to Alice that they ‘can go now’ Pamela was going to stroke Alice’s hair and the audience would see that she’s missing her little finger thus revealing that she’s the killer. This ‘missing finger’ idea feels like something from a Giallo movie and was used a couple of years after in Lucio Fulci’s movie The New York Ripper which featured a character who was missing two fingers from his right hand.

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The ‘missing fingers’ motif as clue was used in Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper in 1982

This part of the scene shows that Alice’s hunches were spot-on and she’s now with someone who is very deranged and very dangerous. Mrs Voorhees explains that Jason was her son and today is his birthday (whilst fixing a very scary grin on her face). Alice asks about where Mr Christy is but this goes unheard by Pamela who is in the zone and thinking aloud that she couldn’t let them open the summer camp again, could she? Not after that had happened. She then laments her ‘sweet, innocent Jason’ whilst again visualising him drowning.

However this is abruptly shattered as she then starts to personally accuse Alice of letting her son drown and of not paying any attention. Her raison d’être is now revealed. She is forever avenging the death of her son by killing the camp counsellors who are just as horny and irresponsible as Barry and Claudine who weren’t watching Jason. If they had watched him he wouldn’t be dead now.

To emphasise that she has now turned very nasty indeed she knocks over a table that is in her way.

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Mrs Voorhees’ mood suddenly changes as her evil side comes to the fore

Mrs Voorhees then reveals that she is wearing a knife in a holder strapped around her waist (one hell of a way to accessorise) that instantly reminded me of the Manson Family and also the character of Crackers in the John Waters film Pink Flamingos who also wore the same thing which is visible during the home invasion scene within the film. Waters was seemingly Manson obsessed at the time and so the two could have been connected.

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The ultimate accessory for the psychopath about town
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‘Look what you did to him!’

Pamela goes for Alice with the knife but it is batted away with a poker that Alice grabs who then hits Pamela with it on the back as she falls down.

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Sean S. Cunningham directing the poker scene

What happens next is that Alice discovers more bodies in what constitutes a kind of ‘Big Reveal’ or ‘shocking denouement’ in which The Final Girl (Alice) is in no doubt that her adversary (in this instance, Mrs Voorhees) is murderous and that her life is in serious danger. She must now fight for her life against this foe or she will end up the same way as the other victims that have now been revealed to her in such a dramatic fashion. The idea of the ‘Big Reveal’ is a slasher movie convention with the most obvious example being from 1978’s Halloween in which Laurie goes over to the house across the street and finds the victims of Michael Myers that are revealed in ghoulish fashion.

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The ‘Big Reveal’ or shocking denouement within Halloween. Michael has set up a varitable House of Horrors for Laurie to inadvertantly walk into with Annie’s body being the centrepiece along with the revealing of Bob and Lynda’s corpses. Such is the genius of Carpenter’s film that the killer is part of The Big Reveal as his white mask comes out of the darkness

She races outside to the 4×4 that Mrs Voorhees arrived in and sees the dead mutilated body of Annie the camp cook who never actually made it to the camp (not alive anyway. Does that mean that Mrs Voorhees was driving around for most of the day with Annie’s dead body in the passenger seat?! I hope so) and then the body of Steve Christy who has been suspended upside down from a tree and suddenly flops down as Alice approaches.

As Alice is revealing the bodies that have been placed in her path, Mrs Voorhees gets up after being struck with the poker. This sequence is another example of how ‘in the zone’ Betsy Palmer was. Notice her gait and body language as she gets up and gets ready for Round 2. She looks almost inhumane, almost supernatural. As we’ll see later, Betsy Palmer truly went the extra mile for this performance and made her character into something almost paranormally chilling not just with the delivery of her lines but also through her body and the shapes she throws as the character. This performance really is something extra special.

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Another example of what makes Betsy Palmer’s performance in this role truly exceptional and scary as fuck. Even her body language is off-kilter and off-centre

As Alice runs into the woods we see Pamela recover from the blow from the poker and rise to her feet. She sees her quarry running away and starts talking in her son’s voice. ‘Kill her Mommy! Kill her! Don’t let her get away, Mommy! Don’t let her live!’ to which she responds in her own voice, ‘I won’t Jason! I won’t!’

This internal monologue that we’re privileged to see where Pamela is taking on the voice and persona of her dead son and then replying as herself is really something to behold. If there’s only one thing scarier than the close-up on Pamela’s voice it’s when the camera cuts back to her to an extreme close-up on her eyes, nose and mouth. And this shows another scary thing about the film and Mrs Voorhees’ character- her teeth. She appears to have twice the number of teeth of an average person and in certain shots she looks like half-woman, half-piranha.

Alice makes it to another cabin and finds a gun but no bullets. Mrs Voorhees enters and states ‘Come dear. It’ll be easier for you then it was for Jason!’ She then channels her dead son whilst saying (with the camera in extreme close-up of her face again which is again very unsettling) ‘Kill her, Mommy! Kill her!’ whilst advancing on Alice. Alice tries to strike Voorhees with the gun but this is quickly batted away by Pamela. Check out the noise she makes when she does this. It’s a cross between a really evil alley cat and something other worldly and completely pissed off. I love the part of this sequence in which Alice throws random objects at Voorhees who merely deflects them away with her arms (and even underneath her chin!) with a rictus grin on her face.

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Alice starts to throw objects at Mrs Voorhees to slow her down but she just deflects them away. Notice in this scene how Pamela resembles some kind of unstoppable, almost supernatural force- a foreshadowing of her son in the sequels

When Pamela actually gets to Alice she gives her a good slapping and then throws her onto a table and gives her another round of slaps (this part of the sequence is fantastically directed with the camera acting as a POV shot for Alice so that it looks like Mrs Voorhees is actually slapping around the audience. And look at how chilling and otherworldly Palmer’s performance is here).

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The many faces of Pamela Voorhees. Notice how scary she is when she’s giving Alice/the audience a slapping.

The camera as the POV for Alice also gives us an idea of how close to Alice Mrs Voorhees gets which makes the experience so much more unsettling and chillingly personal. This was a great directorial device.

Alice then uses the rifle to strike her in the crotch (yes, really) and then in the face.

Again, as Alice gets away we get to hear Voorhees in voiceover as she says in her son’s voice ‘Kill her, Mommy! Kill her! She can’t hide! No place to hide! Get her, Mommy! Get her! Kill her! Kill her!’ Her mouth is then superimposed over footage of Alice getting to the main cabin again as she speaks as Jason.

Alice then hides in the pantry and hears Pamela entering the cabin as she can hear objects being broken and smashed to the ground. There is a very creepy shot in which we see the lights in the cabin being switched on and light streaming in between the gaps of the planks that make up the pantry’s wooden door. There is also a great shot of the door handle that Alice is crouched below suddenly turning.

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The seriously scary shot of light coming through the slats of the wooden door whilst Alice hears Pamela smashing and breaking things as she goes through the room

And what happens is the second most famous (or infamous) scene of someone breaking down a door in film that year. The first, of course, is that of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. This is interesting as well as Betsy Palmer says that when her performance was getting a little too over the top, Sean Cunningham would rein her back in by saying ‘Remember Jack Nicholson in The Shining’ as if to remind her not to get too exaggerated as Pamela Voorhees. The only thing is that The Shining hadn’t been released by the time shooting started on Friday the 13th. Maybe time had affected memories and facts.

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Here’s Johnny! You wait long enough for a door to be broken down in a horror film and two such sequences come along at once…
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Here’s Pammy! The second most iconic ‘door being broken down in a horror film’ scene of 1980

As Voorhees gets into the pantry she takes an impressive swing with a machete (some serious foreshadowing for the rest of the franchise here!) but it is batted away by Alice who uses a frying pan which she also strikes Voorhees on the head with. She turns the unconscious Pamela over with her foot and on seeing blood coming from her head decides that she won’t be getting up again and that she is safe.

She then goes down to the beach but is then confronted by Voorhees once again. It is during this tussle that Voorhees bites Alice’s arm.

It is of course this sequence that ends with Alice picking up the machete that Pamela had tried to attack her with and beheads her with it. Check out Pamela as she gets up just before she has her head lopped off. She has all of the abnormal and very scary gait of one of the skeletons modelled by Ray Harryhausen from the movie Jason and the Argonauts. Her body is all right angles complete with a demonic expression on her face.

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The skeletal gait of Pamela Voorhees on the beach just before her expression changes when she sees whats about to happen to her
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Ray Harryhausen’s skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts

Her beheading puts paid to this with her startled expression as Alice literally chops off her head. This is Savini’s piece de resistance for a movie that features some of his best work. This sequence would have been outrageous for a horror audience in 1980 as nothing as graphic had been seen within a mainstream horror movie up until this point. The fact that Voorhees hands are clenching and opening again as her headless body falls to the floor makes it all the more graphic (and blackly funny). Alice gets into one of the canoes and lets it drift into the lake.

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Pamela is shocked out of her scary stance as she sees what is about to happen…
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Alice swings the machete and…
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Notice that even after she has lost her head (literally), Mrs Voorhees still opens and closes her hands as her body falls to the floor. A great touch.

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Adrienne King with Tom Savini and Pamela’s head prop

But there is one more scare that Cunningham has up his sleeve for the audience. We see Alice in the canoe with it now being daytime. I love how this scene is softly lit like some kind of sanitary towel commercial. ‘Yes, you too can canoe with confidence! Even during that time of the month…’

Of course, everything points to the fact that Alice is now victorious and safe. The music playing over the soundtrack is piano music along with a slightly off-kilter synth giving the scene a surreal slant.

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The sanitary towel red herring sequence. Alice is now safe. Or is she?!

Then when the audience is lulled into this being the end of the movie with the Final Girl enjoying the tranquility of the lake, Jason’s rotting and algaed body leaps up out of the water and pulls her under.

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‘He’s behind you!’ Jason makes his debut

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And this scene shows another example of Tom Savini’s genius- the rotting corpse of Jason who had been in the lake all of this time.

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We are then shaken out of this with a close up of Alice’s screaming face as she’s just been shocked awake by a nightmare as she resides in a hospital bed.

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As if events haven’t been traumatic enough for her she then has the indignity of being forced to get a shot of sedative in the butt whilst her doctor and a local policeman look on.

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Alice gets a sedative in the butt. Brilliantly awkward and painful to boot.

I’m also loving the silent doctor in this scene. The raising of his eyebrows indicate that he’s either an acting genius or was merely brought in at the last minute. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one is most likely the case.

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The more you know, the less you gotta show. The Marlon Brando of Friday the 13th

She enquires whether there was anyone else who actually survived but the policeman lets her know that there were unfortunately no other survivors. She then asks about the boy Jason who pulled her into the lake that the police recovered her from. The policeman looks quizzically at her and says that there was no sign of any boy. ‘Then he’s still there’ she states. And with this and one last shot of the lake and a ripple on it’s surface, a horror franchise was born.

It’s great that another star of the movie is given the last shot and that is the beautiful lake and shoreline.

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The film was hated by critics on it’s release. Gene Siskel from The Chicago Tribune got his knickers in such a bunch over the film and the fact that *shock horror* Betsy Palmer could star in such a movie that he published the name of the town that she lived in and asked people to send hate mail to the Post Office there so that the letters of disapproval could be forwarded to her. But he published the name of the wrong town. D’oh! He even relished giving away the ending of the film as to her character being the killer. His review reads more like a narcissistic tantrum from a man-child than a rational review by an adult film critic.

But who cares what stuffy and pretentious film critics thought. The film opened and did amazing business eventually making $59.8m against it’s budget of $550,000.

Fun fact- the credit sequence for Star Wars cost more than the entire budget for the first Friday the 13th film.

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Friday the 13th opened the same week as Cruising here in Leeds. Steve Christy would approve.

Yes, Friday the 13th isn’t Halloween, the film Cunningham looked to to outline a formula for a film that was familiar enough to make money. But then again, few horror films or indeed any films are as good as Halloween. But whilst Carpenter’s masterpiece is an A+ movie, Friday the 13th is a B+ movie. It’s interesting to see the embryonic first film in a franchise before a formula was struck upon. There’s murders and suspense but also quirky characters, a whodunnit element that feels like something out of a Giallo film and a performance that is truly one of the best (and most deranged) in horror history. Add to this a killer (pun not intended) soundtrack and you have a bona fide cult classic.

But also, the first 4 films in the franchise embody a golden time for horror fans as there was a renaissance for the genre that was largely down to the slasher sub-genre. Filmmakers and studios were seeing that horror was profitable and so it was almost as if there was a new slasher movie or horror film released every week. The newly formed Fangoria Magazine embodied this new golden era. The Friday the 13th franchise and Fangoria Magazine almost mirrored each other and captured the magic and innocence of the time and the 80’s in particular. Issue 6 wrote about Friday the 13th around the film’s release in an article that examined how Tom Savini created the effects for the film.

For all of these reasons this is why Friday the 13th is in the Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame.

Review- Censor (2021)

Review- Censor (2021)

Enid is a censor in the 80’s working on classifying the so-called Video Nasties so that they can be released on video. Many are either cut or rejected outright. In her personal life, her sister went missing years before after they had been playing in woods nearby. She has never been found but Enid thinks she might now have a lead through, ironically, the films she’s classifying.

I thought a film based around this period and the Video Nasties moral panic would be interesting with this historical backdrop and the social climate surrounding it.

But whilst all of the resources you need when you base a film around a particular period seem to be at your disposal, the issue of authenticity rises it’s ugly head. I lived through this period and know it inside out because of my love of all things horror and such a monumental shift regarding this with the advent of home video.

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Censor feels like the vintage furnishing shops of Camden had been gone through to facilitate this production. It feels like a faux version of the period, a hipster and completely artificial variant rather than the filmmakers successfully transporting you into that amazing period. It’s a particularly ugly vision of this timeframe that Censor presents too.

Add to this the flimsiest of plots, not being able to care about one single character in the film, attempts at subtexts regarding trauma and state censorship (both dealt with amateurishly) and drama school theatrics and it’s a no from me. Watch the actual video nasties instead or a really good documentary about the topic (Ban The Sadist Videos is a great place to start). But don’t waste your time on such a revisionist and boring film ‘based’ on the period.

Grade- D-

Review- Girlhood (2014)

Review- Girlhood (2014)

Marieme is an African-French tennager living in a poor neighbourhood in Paris. As her mother works long hours she has plenty of responsibilities within her household where her older and very strict brother takes the unofficial mantle of head of whilst their mother isn’t present. Marieme’s academic career has been affected adversely because of her household duties and it is suggested that when she leaves school she takes a vocational course which leaves her disillusioned and despairing.

She quickly finds solace and escape under the auspices of a girl gang. With this she appears to come out of her shell more but also sacrifices her true personality so that she can fit in and so a kind of grooming starts with her adopting the ways of the gang as a collective and burying her true self in the process. The gang appears to be the role models and family she always wanted rather than the actual family situation she finds herself in. This is very liberating. But also very dangerous when the will of the collective group take over her individual will. She is even given a new name by the group- Vic which is short for Victory and hew new (and fake) identity is sealed.

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This film is stunning. It’s a tale of coming of age, friendship and how life can hold many unexpected twists and turns. It also shows how some people’s futures are so empty and devoid of meaning due to a bleak future that they are enticed by the perceived glamour of a life as a rebel or maverick. But with such a life comes serious consequences that are shown worts and all within the film.

With being in a gang there are also rivalries with other gangs to show who is the baddest and most dangerous. This happens in the form of organised fights that are arranged between members of rival gangs with plenty of onlookers cheering and even filming proceedings on their phones. The fights reminded me of some of the fights seen within the TV series Wentworth as they symbolise more than just a winner and a loser but also how they can determine one’s status within a much bigger hierarchy.

Reject a boring life with soul destroying jobs, lack of prospects and a bleak future. But beware of what you accept in it’s place as this may make you vulnerable to other kinds of dangers and place a target on your head.

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One criticism that director Céline Sciamma received on making this film was that she is a white women telling a story of black women and so her film is somewhat disingenuous and not authentic. This is nonsense and I oppose this criticism just as much as the arguments levelled at certain actors for portraying a character who is within a different demographic to themselves. It’s called acting for a reason just as directors can tell stories involving characters with different origins to their own.

Look out for the amazing sequence in which the leads mime to Rihanna’s Diamonds, not that you would fail to miss such an exquisite moment. But this could be said about the whole of Girlhood. It’s a stunning film.

Grade- A-

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- The New York Ripper (1982)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- The New York Ripper (1982)

I love any film that is so notorious it generates it’s own urban legend regarding it’s controversial release, whether this account is true or not.

One such film is Lucio Fulci’s 1982 sleazy slasher gorefest, The New York Ripper. Rumour has it that when the UK distributor submitted it to the British Board of Film Classification, the censors were so appalled by what they saw that the print was given a police escort out of the country. The truth of the matter is that chief censor James Ferman (apparently) decided to send the print back to it’s rights owners in Italy to prevent the distributors making copies for video or get local approval for regional cinema screenings. Mr Ferman did this to prevent the distributors being found guilty of obscenity if the matter was taken to court. Ferman is conveniently framed on the BBFC’s website as doing them a favour- whilst effectively making sure that they didn’t get their own way and distributed the film anyway.

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Not many films have become synonymous with epitomising both the 42nd Street and Video Nasties scenes but The New York Ripper does and it does it brilliantly. This is a truly brutal piece of slasher cinema and is so grimy that you feel like you need to take a shower after it.

It starts as it means to go on with an old man playing a game of fetch with his dog. But instead of bringing back the piece of wood thrown for it into a bush on the banks of the Hudson River, the dog brings back a decomposing human hand. The film’s title is even superimposed over this image as if it’s typical of the film’s content. And it is! Fulci is proudly extolling the film’s content and intent.

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It’s discovered that this is a body part of the latest victim of a crazed killer who is stalking and killing prostitutes in the city. The prostitute’s landlady tells the cop on the case that the guy who Anne went to meet bizarrely had the voice of a duck.

Throughout the film we get to see other victims as they are butchered but the actual killer isn’t revealed until the end which in typical Giallo fashion means that this is a whodunnit as well as a horror film. A number of characters are set up as potential suspects for both the police and the audience, particularly the mysterious man who has two fingers missing from his right hand.

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Most of the characters in the film are interesting, quirky, and in some cases, just as sleazy as the film. One such example is that of Jane Lodge. We first see her in the front row of a live sex show theatre in Times Square. She is not only avidly watching the action but also recording the encounter. We find out that she does this for her husband whom she is in an open marriage with. She takes home mementoes from her daily search for sexy trysts for them both to enjoy (she’s clearly living her best life). Whilst front row we see that she is clearly getting off on what she is seeing and is revealed to be dressed for the occasion by wearing suspenders under her fashionable garb of trilby, raincoat and immaculate make-up. We later see her on another sexcapade that takes place in a Hispanic dockside bar that defies belief. Let’s just say it involves toes. She reminds me of an even sleazier version of Angie Dickinson’s bored housewife character from Dressed To Kill.

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Secret double lives seem to be a thing within the film. Williams who is hunting this homicidal Donald Duck is shown in bed with a prostitute he regularly visits. The fact that he’s a cop seemingly doesn’t deter him. Even the doctor whom Williams hires to advise on the case is shown buying a gay porno mag from a street vendor (‘Have a nice evening!’ the vendor says to him with a chuckle).

And then there are the kills. Oh my. The murders are extremely graphic and, in some cases, involve razor blades being used on faces, eyeballs as well as on female anatomy. There are also guttings. A coroner describes one decapitation to Williams in graphic detail and even throws in the word ‘joytrail’ for good measure as to where the killer entered his knife. There’s also a murder that involves a broken bottle being thrust into a woman’s ‘joytrail’ who has just come offstage at the sex show that Jane had a ringside seat for. There is even a POV shot for the bottle.

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The film feels like Fulci wanted to make the ultimate piece of exploitation centred around the Big Apple which in those days was rotten to the core- a crime ridden city where danger lurked on every corner but particularly for women. Think of the opening credits for The Equalizer and you get the idea. Every man is a rapist, mugger or murderer. The backdrops for the kills within the film showcase the different appropriate locales that the city had to offer with the subway, dirty ‘rent by the hour’ motel rooms and even the Staten Island Ferry being utilised. There are also lingering shots of 42nd Street. The Deuce has never been so beautifully captured since Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It would seem that Fulci’s film is a lower rent, exploitation descendent of that film just as William Lustig’s Maniac and Abel Ferrera’s Driller Killer are.

For such a grimy and sleazy movie, it has been beautifully shot and lit as the new Blue Underground 4K Blu Ray fully shows. This is the best edition to grab if you are new to this masterpiece.

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With The New York Ripper, Fulci set out to outdo himself and make the most sleazy, gory and sensationalistic Grindhouse movie of all time. Boy, did he succeed! The New York Ripper is a perfect storm of 80’s Giallo, 42nd Street and the Video Nasties moral panic. And, it lives up to it’s reputation whilst being a fantastic movie to boot. Whilst Zombi 2 may be a good ‘in’ for those who are new to Fulci, The New York Ripper is a great film to investigate after this. It’s also a great date movie (although that probably says more about me than anything else…)

Review- Yesterday (2019)

Review- Yesterday (2019)

Jack Malik is a struggling singer/songwriter. On his way back home from a gig he finds himself in an accident as the result of a worldwide power outage. Whilst recuperating he finds that he is now in a world where, shock horror, The Beatles and their music are completely unknown with their songs not being written or recorded. He fraudulently decides to address this by performing the songs in his own set and quickly becomes famous because of this.

This film is vile. Firstly it presumes that The Beatles’ music is so fantastic that it would become huge in any era and under any auspices. Theres only a handful of the band’s entire oeuvre that I can tolerate at best and so this film’s assertion is completely, pun not intended, tone deaf to me.

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Horrific

Secondly, Ed Sheeran stars as himself. In a film that centres around bland music, it’s fitting that he has a prominent place within proceedings. But whoever thought that Sheeran has a face for the celluloid screen? He looks like a ginger version of Pepe The Frog.

Thirdly, this film is so twee that it seems to have been made to be shown on BBC1 (preferably on a Sunday afternoon) for many decades to come. It’s full of irritating middle class people being all cutesy, annotingly awkward and vomit inducing to boot. It’s no surprise that Richard Curtis wrote this monstrosity.

If I had to rewrite this film it would go like this- Jack finds that whilst The Beatles are nowhere to be heard (and suffered) in the post outage world, there’s a band called Throbbing Gristle who are as famous as The Fab Four were. Songs such as United, Zyklon B Zombie and Six Six Sixties are known by everybody and appropriately held dear in the hearts of the populace. Jack peddles his Beatles covers but he, like their songs, remains mired in obscurity. The End.

Yesterday gets no stars.

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Throbbing Gristle- the anti-Beatles

Review- Grease (1978)

Review- Grease (1978)

Along with most other households in the UK for members of Gen X (the best generation by the way), we had the soundtrack for the film Grease. When the film was finally shown on UK TV I recorded it and watched it fat too much. It was a ‘go to film’ for a time when I was young.

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But this was stopped when I asked my brother’s new girlfriend if she liked the film and soundtrack. She frowned and said ‘It’s a bit tacky…’ This stayed with me. How could I have been into something so lacking in sophistication and tacky?! My love for Grease abruptly ended.

I found myself recently revisiting the film when it was shown on TV again. Would I cringe and snigger whilst wondering how I could have possibly have watched such rubbish as a child? No! I loved it!

For those who have been living under a rock since 1978, the film concerns the holiday romance between Danny Zuko and Australian Sandy Olsson. As Sandy finds that her family are staying on in America rather than returning to Oz she starts at Rydell High School, not knowing that Zuko attends there. She also doesn’t know that he is the leader of a greaser gang known as The T-Birds. This leads to the tough and streetwise Danny she meets rather than the sensitive and caring Danny she knew from her summer holiday. Sandy is taken under the wind of a girl gang known as The Pink Ladies led by the inimitable Rizzo.

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The true star of the show, Rizzo

I love how theres another layer to the wit within the film that completely went over my head when I was a kid. Grease is full of filthy references as the teenagers characters (most of whom look like they’re actually at least 35) are unabashedly full of hormones and lust (except the pure and virginal Sandy). And so we get fantastic ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ gags such as a car door being slammed on Danny’s erection at the drive-in after he tried to get it on with Sandy and the appearance of the cling film during the Greased Lightning sequence.

And then theres the music which is just as steeped in nostalgia and a lost era as the film’s visuals and narrative are. And just like the rest of the film, the songs are just as funny. Possibly the greatest of these is the Beauty School Dropout sequence resplendent with Frankie Avalon. Surreal, hilarious and utterly inspired.

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But there are also poignant musical moments such as Sandy singing Hopelessly Devoted To You and Rizzo’s There Are Worse Things I Could Do. This isn’t a one note movie.

Grease originally started as a stage musical on Broadway  in 1972 and was instrumental in a revival of all things 50’s Americana in the 70’s which continued with American Graffiti and Happy Days. The film imbues the same wistful nostalgia which is gleefully part fact, part fiction as times gone by normally are when viewed through rose-tinted glasses. This doesn’t matter a jot however as Grease is still a fantastic piece of escapism.

In fact, theres very little difference between this and say, John Waters’ Cry Baby which just goes to show what a fantastic era both films draw inspiration from and how close to the bone and risqué they are.

Grease has also been the subject of many different kinds of film analysis. My favourite is the one that sees it as a lesbian text with Sandy being ‘femme’ and Danny being ‘butch’.

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Butch and femme

Grease is a film that was the highest grossing of 1978, with the soundtrack being just as successful when it came to record sales. And it was utterly justified.

Watching Grease after so many years was like being visited by an old friend.

***** out of *****

Review- Martha (1974)

Review- Martha (1974)

More Fassbinder goodness with this 1974 film as we see the central character start out as a happy go lucky woman who feels pressurised to find a man, settle down and adjust to married life. Her own parents are revealed to be in a loveless marriage until Martha’s father collapses and dies when he is with his daughter on holiday in Italy.

I’m not going to give away too much about the plot and what happens during the course of the movie as I don’t want to blunt the impact of the film but all I’ll say is that this is a dark piece of cinema! And I mean DARK!

As the concept of coercive control is just starting to be spoken about in the popular media, Fassbinder had made a film about it 1974. And gaslighting. And marital sadism.

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A special mention needs to go to Margit Carstensen in the lead role whose performance is nothing short of astonishing as we see her character’s spirit and very existence being destroyed and disintegrating before our very eyes.

I also didn’t know that Karlheinz Bohm had ever depicted a darker character than his star turn in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. I was sooo wrong! His character here is a sadistic psychopath/narcissist and acted to grimy and reptilian perfection.

I remember when I saw the movie Threads for the first time. I thought to myself that it couldn’t get any darker but then saw that that it was only halfway through it’s running time. I then saw that it could get MUCH darker! The same happened when I watched Martha.

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This does for marriage and societal expectations for women what Jaws did for sharks. When I watched this I kept thinking to myself ‘I’m so glad that I’m gay. And that I’m happily single!’

****and a half out of *****